I woke up this morning with the theme of retirement floating on my mind. The words of Omar Khayyam came unbidden into my thoughts over and over like an earworm "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou". Oh, to be able to live that simple life. Wouldn't it be a dream?
Then slowly, other poems started rolling through the corridors of my crowded mind, threading their way in between the latest covid vaccine news and the price of bitcoin, interrupting musings on patient F. R.'s mysterious lapse of consciousness and patient M.J.'s urosepsis admission.
Some of these poems I had collected and studiously typed up on my electric typewriter when I was going through college in the long-ago 1980s. Poems from even more ancient dead poets, mandarins, and kings of Vietnam, like Nguyen Cong Tru's Chu Nhan and Nguyen Binh Khiem's Nhan. Poems that pondered the wisdom of hard work and success, relaxation and joy.
I know that I have visited these thoughts before because I loved the sound of Nguyen Cong Tru's poem so much I still can recite the entire poem phonetically; 6 lines of which are in archaic Han and 2 of which I still haven't been able to completely translate in my mind and so cannot figure out what they meant. Regardless, for my entire life, I must have concluded to go for hard work and success, rather than relaxation and joy. Sometimes for myself, because I wanted to, sometimes for others, because I needed to be an example (first for my nieces and nephew, then my children.) And also because there are just so few of us non-corporate doctors left out there, fighting to help the patients who no one listens to. Still, sometimes it's nice to look down a road that diverges in the woods, and wonder if you should take that turn.
I have no doubt that my flight of fantasy was triggered by the discussion that we had in our text group of medical doctors yesterday. A friend of mine, MK, had confessed that she is throwing in the towel and is planning her retirement, that the Covid pandemic and the hostile politicization of a public health crisis this whole past year has been the giant straw that broke the camel's back. She wanted to know how many of us are ready to take this step.
Her decision was aided in part by the tremendous stress of fighting the Covid pandemic and its social consequences over the past year, her own illnesses, and, of course, by her rising investment IRA portfolio. Unlike me, she practices in the middle of Little Saigon which is packed full of covid deniers, anti-masks, and anti-vaccine demonstrators daily. Unlike me, she also had to contend with many personal illnesses and struggles.
Whereas I have no such excuses. My physical health is still decent, except for the partial loss of smell following my recovery from Covid (another story). My mental status is still okay. Frankly, my mind is sharper than ever, fueled as it is by the need to constantly keep up with new developments coming from the medical world daily. My emotional status is crazy, crying one day from the loss of another patient, grateful the next by a box of masks from a temple, angry one day from having to fight with covid deniers and anti-vaxers from my own family, hopeful the next by gestures of support from my community. Sometimes strong emotions are needed to spur actions. The more patients I lose, the more stories I hear of loss and survival, the more inclined I am to stay in the war, to speak out and tell their stories, to do whatever it takes to prevent the next unnecessary death and loss.
So the want is still there, the need is still there, and no great excuses. I can indulge in my retirement fantasy for a little while, maybe take a vacation soon to cure the restlessness and the angst, maybe create a blog to ease the melancholy and release some pent-up creativity, then go back to doing what I do best, taking care of people.
That's it, I'll create a storytelling blog for my own therapy, and see if it will ease anyone else's turbulent mind.
I am including the 2 poems mentioned above at the request of a friend. For some reason, I am terrible at translating poetry into English so will work on that slowly.
Một mai, một cuốc, một cần câu Thơ thẩn dầu ai vui thú nào Ta dại, ta tìm nơi vắng vẻ Người khôn, người đến chốn lao xao Thu ăn măng trúc, đông ăn giá Xuân tắm hồ sen, hạ tắm ao Rượu, đến gốc cây, ta sẽ uống Nhìn xem phú quý, tựa chiêm bao.